A transgender woman in Georgia has accused police officers of beating her and her friends after they caught outside past curfew. The alleged incident took place within hours of an attempted self-immolation by another transgender woman in Tbilisi.
Georgia’s State Inspector Service has launched an investigation against several police officers in Tbilisi for ‘exceeding official powers using violence’ after Tsomaia alleged mistreatment during her arrest.
Sesili Tsomaia told Georgian news outlet On.ge that at around 23:00 on 30 April, two hours past curfew, she had gone outside to look for a pharmacy because she felt unwell after learning of an incident in which a friend of hers had attempted to self immolate.
[Read more on OC Media: Transgender woman sets herself on fire in Tbilisi ]
As she was staying at a friend’s house in an unfamiliar neighbourhood, she became lost and called her friends who came to pick her up with a car. Shortly after her friends arrived, they were stopped by several police officers who allegedly then proceeded to harangue and demean them.
Tsomia alleges other police officers then arrived at the scene until there were about ‘20-25’ of them, some in uniform and some in plain clothes. Tsomaia then proceeded to cut her wrists in protest of her treatment by the police. The police responded by handcuffing her and her friends.
The officer ‘in charge’, alongside other officers allegedly then proceeded to beat Tsomaia and her friends. Tsomaia was allegedly punched, dragged, and kicked.
‘They dragged me two or three metres. After that, while I had my hands tied, the one in charge came and kicked my back’, Tsomaia told On.ge.
Tsomaia later told Mtavari Arkhi that her friends had taken footage of the incident, but police officers had confiscated her and her friend’s mobile phones and deleted the footage.
She said one of her friends was spared from physical attack after she lied to the officers and said that she was eight weeks pregnant.
Georgia’s State Inspector’s Service was established last November to investigate allegations of ‘grave crimes’ committed by law enforcement agencies and officials.
On 2 May, the Coalition for Equality, a bloc of local rights groups that includes the queer community organisation Equality Movement, has said that in spite of previously held consultations, 'specific needs of LGBTQI people were not considered' in the Georgian Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Coalition said that government aid did not go beyond food and personal hygiene products distributed once in the initial days of the crisis. They urged Georgian authorities to address the 'urgent needs' of the queer community by subsidising rents and providing alternative forms of housing.
Other activists and allies of Georgia’s queer and trans communities have also claimed that the curfew and stay-at-home regime has fallen hardest on the trans community, as they are very reliant on the sex-trade due to being locked out of formal employment due to discrimination and the lack of legal gender recognition (e.g. on ID documents).
[Read more on OC Media: No place for transgender people in Georgia’s labour market].
In a statement made on 6 April, the Eastern European Coalition for LGBT+ Equality noted that risks of loss of losing job and homelessness ‘disproportionately affects members of the trans community’ during the COVID-19 pandemic and that community groups are often left to rely on crowdfunding to meet essential needs.
This is further compounded by the threat of discriminatory violence and harassment from law enforcement officers.
‘Trans and gay sex workers, while exposed to both health and economic risks, are also under a higher risk of increased harassment and violence on the part of the law enforcement agencies (already biased against these groups), that might become overzealous in raiding cruising areas, under the pretext of enforcing curfews and other limitations on public assembly’, the statement reads.